Why we are fighting – Top female lawyer, Cordelia Eke

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* Fight with your brain, not your body – lecturer

* Women are not in competition with men, lawyer

* Sad: Most women abandon rights violation suits in court

 

Discrimination is said to be the major reason why enlightened women are launching several battles for the liberation of women in the Africa especially in Nigeria.

Female executives, professionals, and business owners who came together in Port Harcourt to mark the International Women’s Day (IWD) have once again revealed why women are fighting. 

After the usual lamentations about land use segregation, social perceptions, demands for women inclusion in all key sectors of the economy, access for political power, women to be given the right to bail detainees, legislation to protect women from being thrown out of homes, and girl-child education, the top women said they wanted to celebrate their achievements so far.

In an exclusive interview with a leading female lawyer, Cordelia Eka, Coordinator, African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA), Rivers State, and Secretary, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Port Harcourt, the activist said there was not much in law against women but that the society has created discriminations against women even when the law says all are equal before the law. “It is rather because of traditions and customs. Even in law practice, there are some lawyers that are turned down at law firms just because they are female lawyers. In every aspect of endeavour, women are discriminated against. That is why women are out fighting.”

She admitted that the Nigerian constitution provides for equal rights but that daily, a lot of cases of discrimination arise. “I have been a victim too. Now, we want to tell the world that this has to stop.”

She went on: “We must tell the men that women are not in competition against them but are out to partner with the men to build a better society for our children. We ask for gender parity, we ask for equal pay for equal work. A women should be commended when she does a good job and not to pass it to a man because he is a man. That is why we gather at each forum to create awareness and make the women to know their rights and have the confidence to rise to the highest capacity and encourage them to dream big, too. They should not be limited just because they are women.”

When reminded that she seemed to be urging women to take every case of abuse or discrimination to court even in the face of many adjournments in courts in Nigeria, Eke reminded women that issues of fundamental human rights are not delayed in courts but are given priority.

She said; “There are many reasons why cases linger in court such as under-funding of the judiciary, lack of manpower, and other administrative reasons. Some courts are over crowded with too many cases. But issues of fundamental human rights are given fast hearing. The problem is when the victim is not ready to fight for her right. Often, when you file a case in court, the witnesses disappear. The victim tells you ‘oh, I have forgiven the person; I have been asked to forgive.” The lawyer now looks unserious. My appeal is, follow your case through. I agree that there are intimidations of witnesses but talk to your lawyer to find a solution. Human right cases have priority in courts.”

On attitude of women who find themselves in power appearing to oppress others too, the activist said we all know that power brings with it some airs of superiority and looking down on others. “I know some cases of women oppressing others too but from what I know, many of such women were abused at some point in their lives by men. They see this as an opportunity to hit back at the men that frustrated them. What I can say is, two wrongs do not make a right. We say, you don’t pay the man back. You can go to jail by committing an act against the law, just because someone did it to you in the past. We continue to advocate that people should follow the law to retaliate.”

Also speaking, the Rivers State Acting Chairperson of NNEW (NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women), Timitayo Ojesanmi, explaining why women were celebrating, said; “We are a business-membership organization set up to support women businesses and advocate for them. We have a vision to build a generation of successful women organizations. This event is important because we are women first of all and we deserve to be celebrated. It is just in recent years that women have come out boldly to run their own businesses. We have to come out and know what we are worth.’

She said there is a lot of discrimination against women in the workplace, in politics, in the home, etc. So, she added, women deserve a time like this. “The oppression against women is real, not mere perception, because there are many examples out there. There is still a lot of work to be done and this is reason for the theme of the International Women’s Day (IWD), which is ‘Pressing for Progress’. In Nigeria, there are still some cultures where women are not allowed to speak up. While we respect our cultures, women should not be maltreated or violated.”

In NNEW, Ojesanmi stated, one of the things they do advocate is for their businesses to employ fellow women. “Some of the businesses have a clause that the CEO will always be a woman. We support ourselves. We also have women who can deliver like men. This does not mean that the women want to stay separate or create a two-world order. We also employ men especially where there are things men will have to do. We are married women and we live with our husbands and our sons. We are not separating the women from the men, but to encourage both men and women.”

“Our final message to young women out there on a day like this is to encourage them to be bold, to take the bull by the horn, and to be who they deserve to be. Let them press for progress.”

A female lecturer in Sociology of Industry in the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Njideka Ebisi, said discriminations were everywhere. “They are institutionalized; in culture, in politics, etc. Some rely on the Bible and say women should submit but submission should not be suppression.”

On some women who seem to thrust their bodies to men for benefits, the lecturer said; “We acknowledge that sometimes, some women offer themselves to men to gain favours. That is why at NNEW, we educate women to do the right thing and get skills, people will look for you. You do not have to offer your body to get ahead. Education, proper education is the key to get ahead, not your body.”